Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jim Koch, the co-founder and chairman of Boston Beer Company (aka Sam Adams). In a short and informal conversation before Brewing the American Dream – Chicago, we covered everything from market research to craft cans and specialty ingredients to the “right” way to drink craft beer (over a Boston Lager of course!). If you’re not familiar with the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program, you can find out more here.
But before jumping into the Q&A I had with Jim, I want to emphasize how indicative the program is of his character. Although, his business has skyrocketed over the past four decades, he has always kept small business owners in mind. Programs like Brewing the American Dream, which reach out to small business owners in the food & beverage industry, helping them get off of the ground, really highlight that Jim hasn’t forgotten where he was as a business owner in 1984.
But that was then and this is now. Jim is the chairman of one of the largest breweries in North America and, because of that, he is one influential man in the craft beer world. When I asked him about market research and the way that the “big boys” (aka AB-InBev and MillerCoors) go about planning their next moves he couldn’t help but chuckle. His response - “To me market research is coming into town and talking to people like Michael Binstein (the owner of Binny’s Beverage Depot) and other liquor store and bar owners to see what’s moving and what isn't,” which was the best answer he could give me in my opinion. It truly is the consumer that drives the market in the craft beer world and I believe that Jim wholeheartedly understands that.
However, I got the impression that the craft canning movement is still somewhat of a curiosity to him. While Boston Beer Company announced earlier this year that it will put Boston Lager into cans, no rationale for doing so has been expressed. Nonetheless, Jim did give me his opinion on some of the reasons why people are out there pushing the movement along. He agreed with many of the points surrounding the portability of cans over bottles, but argued that a 5% difference in UV pass through (95% blockage in brown bottles vs. 100% blockage in cans) is pretty negligible at the end of the day.
Naturally, conversation regarding the presentation and packaging of the beer led us towards a conversation about the “right” way to drink the beer. Ironically enough, I had watched a video posted by John Kimmich, of The Alchemist Brewery, about how he wants people to drink his beer the day before, so Jim and I bantered back and forth a bit about John’s viewpoint. And, regardless of whether we agreed with his rationale for why we should drink his beer the way he says, Jim and I did agree that no one knows how to drink a brewer’s beer better than the brewer.
It was a pleasure to meet Jim and see how down to earth he is with my own eyes. The man is a brewing legend and if he keeps pushing boundaries and doing good in communities across the nation, I see no way that the Boston Beer Company won’t continue to proliferate the way is has for the past 29 years.
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